A few thoughts on artificial intelligence for both the sceptic and evangelist!


I find myself having more and more conversations about AI (artificial intelligence), whether it’s in Legal IT circles such as the recent panel I chaired at LawExpo 2017 in London or just a discussion with my brother on the ethics of the impact of this “next revolution” on the job market. My stand point has a mix of scepticism about how quickly this will happen and a dose of optimism that we will find a way to navigate this shift without mass unemployment.

I sometimes think though I am alone on both counts though. An example is this long but well written article on how we’re all going to lose our jobs to robots, for those in their twenties this article basically says you’ll all be out of a job before you retire! But then there are other more tempered articles that suggest not all jobs will expire but that we’ll adjust to use the tools in our jobs rather than the tools replace them. Or other more positive views of a future business world with AI.

My sceptical side can’t help but pull out articles like this one from 1992 which talked about the future of speech and pen recognition. “If I were a researcher, I’d feel I had a better return from studying speech recognition” [as oppose to handwriting recognition] and comment about how great a stylus would be for painting and drawing. Some 25 years later with Alexa and the Surface pen/Apple pencil we just about have the tech to achieve each to a reasonably successful degree!

But we will undoubtedly see a revolution that eclipses the industrial revolution and transforms the world of business, whether it’s in 5 or 50 years. And I look to the tech leaders like Bill Gates and Elon Musk who are sounding a warning that pretty much every politician is ignoring.

“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.” – Elon Musk

Bill Gates has proposed possible solutions to managing the problem with taxes on robots and the long article linked to first in this post has other options for tackling the transition. We do need to start looking at what this revolution might mean for business and more importantly society, in a very barbell shaped economy more technology will only erode the middle even more and probably also erase the low end job market entirely!

However I think we have time, AI will form a huge part of technology solutions in the next 10 years I am sure, but in very specific applications and the majority of these I think will be in assisting humans rather than eradicating them. After all there will be plenty of companies that follow the Dilbert principle in this cartoon!


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